By George Castle, CBM Historian, April 3, 2020
You always treasure a native Chicagoan rising high in media as sometimes such a status seems a detriment to hiring in a “destination market” like the Second City.
Non-natives hiring non-natives gets expressed in the TV newsperson pronouncing Devon Avenue as “DEE-VON” or the baseball beat writer from Seattle having to spend his entire first season on the job educating himself about Cubs 101.
No worries about Ed Farmer, though. Tributes are pouring in after White Sox play-by-play man Farmer’s death the other day at 70, having fought the good fight against kidney disease for decades.
WGN may brand itself “Chicago’s Very Own” (“Chicago’s Own Television Station” back in the 1960s), but Farmio surely was our “Very Own.” I’d rather have someone not a classic, dulcet-toned announcer work at the top of the food chain if he can talk the city’s language, customs and history.
Farmio may have received brickbats from baseball-broadcast purists for a near-laconic, conversational on-air style, yet status as an authentic Chicagoan overrides these picky details. More specifically, a St. Rita man. The Southwest Side Catholic high school, home to so much athletic success this past century, is such a quintessential representation of the city, an amalgamation of neighborhoods and parishes from which residents drew their identities.
In remembering Farmio, Cubs color analyst Ron Coomer provided a glimpse into the academic and athletic culture of St. Rita that helped shape the former. Coomer, whose early years were spent living near Midway Airport, attended St. Rita his first two years before the family moved to southwest suburban Lockport.
“Eddie and I were longtime friends, but I knew about him way back at St. Rita,” said Coomer. “My cousin grew up in the same neighborhood he did (79th and Francisco). I grew up two parishes over. You do a lot of common things as kids, such as playing CYO basketball. When we got together, you’d talk about St. Rita and all the priest and people who worked there.”
Farmer had to learn good behavior at St. Rita. The alternative was painful. Corporal punishment was meted out swiftly and surely by the brothers. Coomer knew it, too, but could not dodge the ruler on two occasions.
“They tell you to assume the position,” Coomer said, and it was not a prostate exam. “The second time it was for having a skirmish in the hallway with another kid. But there was something to be said about having that kind of discipline.”
Farmio took his St. Rita-centered upbringing directly into pro baseball, through various organizations with the highlight a return to Chicago as an All-Star Sox closer in 1980. But when you got into Farmio storytelling, he was just as liable to recall a Phillies narrative as his time at old Comiskey Park. He’d go into great detail. Between Farmio and Bill Melton, media covering games on the South Side in the early 2000s had a hard time paying attention to the present with all the verbal time travel, with Melton’s tales being more ribald.
”Someone had a story about Farmio, and he’d have a story about them.”
Coomer’s story was being scouted by Farmer while in the minor leagues. Gary native Ron Kittle’s story took place after he just signed as a raw minor-leaguer with the White Sox in 1979. He was asked to catch veteran Farmer at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla.
“He walked to me from the mound and said, ‘Have you seen my curveball, it’s the best 12-6 ever?’” Kittle recalled. “Mike Squires was in the box to look at pitches. Ed threw the first curve. I took my glove off and caught it bare-handed. Squires called me a prick!
“And I said let me know when you throw that 12-6 curve. What a prick I was!”
No, just a strong, cocky kid from Wirt High School who’d be harnessed enough a few years later to bash homers over the old Comiskey left-field roof. But the moral of the story was that Farmer generated anecdotes that only got funnier as the decades passed.
Advancing the clock into this star-crossed century, Farmer was fortunate to be a centerpiece of a Sox broadcast crew with long Chicago connections.
Jason Benetti, baseball broadcasting’s up-and-coming star, hails from Homewood and grew up listening to Farmio and Hawk Harrelson. Farmio radio partner Darrin Jackson was an original Cub who ended up with two Sox tours of duty as an outfielder in the 1990s. Although a Cleveland native, Steve Stone is now thoroughly Chicagoan via a year pitching with the Sox, three years with the Cubs and back to the Sox as a 1977 South Side Hit Man. That preceded a 31-year run on WGN-TV, second-longest ever on the station’s baseball telecasts to Jack Brickhouse, working both Cubs and Sox games.
We always love our own helming the games. Brickhouse was close enough growing up in Peoria. Lou Boudreau was a son of south suburban Harvey. Possibly the best of ‘em all, Jack Quinlan, hailed from Wilmette and New Trier High School. And few thought of Harry Caray as a St. Louisan after he made Chicago his adopted home and turned the Sox booth into a guerilla theater of the air in the Seventies before going on to even greater fame at Wrigley Field.
But even more important than his native son’s knowledge of Sox-hood, Farmio raised awareness of organ donations thanks to the gift of a kidney from brother Tom Farmer. An encounter with Farmer often digressed to the subject. Any public event on organ donations with Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White almost always included Farmio, who’d recruit Sox personalities to add to the star power. Farmio became well-versed in the practice of medicine without one day in medical school. Basically, he learned “on the street.”
“He was a proud White Sox fan, employee and announcer,” said Kittle. “He’s going to be missed.”Category Chicago Baseball History Feature, Chicago Baseball History News Tags Chicago, Comiskey Park, Ed Farmer, Ed Smith Stadium, Farmio, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Jason Benetti, organ donations, Ron Coomer, Ron Kittle, White Sox